Negative Adjectives in 1 Peter

I enjoy finding grammatical nuances which shape or add emphasis to a writer’s words.

The other day I noticed a use of adjectives by Peter under inspiration of the Holy Spirit that brings emphasis to our inheritance in heaven.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
(1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV – Emphasis mine)

In the last part of these verses, Peter uses three different adjectives to describe our inheritance.

  1. imperishable
  2. undefiled
  3. unfading

What I find interesting is that these three adjectives are all “negative” adjectives.  That is, they have a prefix (im- and un-) which negates the root of the word. Without the prefixes we would be left with perishable, defiled and fading.

It could be said that for those who have not been born again to this inheritance have this kind of inheritance. Life lived apart from Christ will result in that which perishes, is defiled and fades.

But we who have been born again have a much more enduring inheritance. It will not perish. It will not be defiled. It will not fade.

Why did not Peter simply use adjectives without the negation? He could have chosen words that would convey the same meaning. Here are some possible words he could have used.

  1. Imperishable could be rendered continuing or enduring.
  2. Undefiled could be clean or pure.
  3. Unfading could be written as lasting brightness.

The triple play of the negative is intended to provide positive emphasis to the reader of the text. We might think of it this way – an inheritance that lasts forever in a pure and bright manner.

Pay attention to the use of grammar when you read your Bible. You might just uncover some riches before left beneath the surface.